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BWW Review: OTHELLO, Wilton's Music Hall

Abraham Popoola's Othello, looking something between footballer Romelu Lukaku and boxer Anthony Joshua, speaks his wedding vows in Arabic, as does the tiny, girlish Norah Lopez Holden as his adoring Desdemona. That act, and the love between them (later curdled to hate by Iago) sets them on a path leading to betrayal, murder and suicide.

This Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory production is staged in the round, a boxing ring of a set, as men and women clash, violence simmering in language and deed. Director, Richard Twyman, has his Othello pulling alternately at a jewelled chain and a cross hung around his neck, a badge and an encumbrance, underlining his dual Muslim and Christian identities, a Moor fighting against Turks for Venetians. Othello's nobility and leadership has lifted him to the status of a heroic general, but those identities - never resolved for those who exploit his warrior gifts when it suits, but want him back in his box when it doesn't - define his ambiguity and demand he negotiate his way as an "Other" in a white, Christian hegemony. With London's multicultural East End and its global financial centre literally on the doorstep, the relevance to 2017 could hardly be more clear.

There's more, much more, on offer in this richest of Shakespeare's plays. Othello may be intelligent, successful and both loved and admired, but that's no protection against his misjudgements, particularly if another's malevolence is supplemented by the knowledge of exactly which buttons to press. Mark Lockyer's Iago is that man, the slighted ensign who destroys lives as much for kicks as for personal animus. Lockyer holds his held high throughout, defiant to the end, the arrogance a carapace to protect him from any second thoughts or remorse.

In a tricky venue for audibility, Katy Stephens' clarity of speech as the distraught Emilia, too late to see Iago's treachery, impresses and Brian Lonsdale gives a splendid comic turn as a Geordie Roderigo. Piers Hampton - with the look of a young Kenneth Branagh - captures Cassio's personal tragedy as Iago's fall guy and Hayat Kamille is a smart and sassy Bianca, a whore straight from a Game of Thrones brothel.

As always with Othello, one is left wondering how Iago generates the volume of hate required to create such mayhem and why he embraces his fate as a prisoner to be tortured with such sang froid. But these things do happen - and every person has their weak points for those sufficiently ruthless to exploit them. Beware the man with a grudge.

Othello continues at Wilton's Music Hall until 3 June.

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From This Author - Gary Naylor